EU observers give Algeria vote polite nod
5/12/2012 7:00:00 PM -
ALGIERS (AFP) - European observers Saturday gave Algeria's polls a polite nod despite widespread suspicion over results that saw the regime buck the Arab Spring trend of change and tighten its grip on power.
Official results for Thursday's legislative election yielded a higher than expected turnout of 42 percent, with the party that has ruled Algeria since independence 50 years ago winning comfortably and Islamists losing ground.
"We take note of a first step in the reform process which will need to be backed, after a constitutional review, by a deepening of democracy," the head of the European Union observation team, Jose Ignacio Salafranca, told reporters.
He was delivering his 150-strong team's preliminary assessment following President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's regime's unprecedented decision to allow 500 foreign observers to monitor the polls.
Salafranca listed a number of shortcomings in the electoral process, in which 21.7 million Algerians were called to the polls to elect a new national assembly, but stopped short of challenging its overall credibility.
He regretted that local observers were not accredited, pointed out gaps in the electoral law and deplored the fact that foreign observers were denied access to a nationwide electoral roll, a move he said "was not consistent with pledges of transparency."
But Salafranca reiterated his satisfaction at the generally calm atmosphere in which polling unfolded, a feeling echoed by other teams among the total of 500 observers who were deployed across Africa's largest country for the polls.
Algeria provides a fifth of Europe's gas, sits on currency reserves of more than 180 billion euros and was recently asked by the International Monetary Fund to help boost its lending capacity to struggling economies.
Other observers gave a less qualified endorsement of the polls.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation praised "successful and democratic elections... held in an organised, transparent and peaceful manner" and recorded no irregularities.
After a campaign marked by deep voter disaffection, many Algerians however argue that the interior ministry's results were manipulated and far removed from reality after a campaign marked by deep voter disaffection.
One opposition party said its own observations suggested turnout was less than half the 42 percent announced by the interior ministry.
Algeria's main Islamist group in the polls -- the Green Algeria alliance -- charged the polls were fraudulent and warned that it would decide on what measures to take in a week.
The alliance's leader Bouguerra Soltani, whose party is the Algerian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and had hoped to emulate Islamist electoral agains in the region, said the election had only "delayed the Arab Spring".
But his party, which was in a governing coalition with the regime, has lost its legitimacy among the Islamist electorate
"The Muslim Brothers in Egypt obtained a good score because they experienced prison for more than 30 years. Here the Islamists don't embody change," Zouheir Hamedi, a political analyst based in Qatar, said.
Protests that left five dead and 800 wounded broke out in January 2011 in Algeria, days after the Arab Spring's founding uprising erupted in neighbouring Tunisia.
But Bouteflika's regime, backed by the powerful military, snuffed out the movement by initiating a reform package and dishing out pay rises.
Bouteflika's National Liberation Front, which has been in power since independence from France in 1962, garnered 220 of the 462 seats up for grabs in the new national assembly.
The national Rally for Democracy, a party close to the military and loyal to the regime, mustered 68 seats, while all seven Islamist parties only managed a combined 59.
Soltani's party could yet retain key posts in the cabinet despite its setback in Thursday's polls.
The FLN's powerful secretary general, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, said he was keen to maintain the presidential coalition between the thre parties.